CBR columnist Joseph Illidge welcomed artist Khary Randolph to the CBR Tiki Room at New York Comic Con to discuss his work on Image Comics/Skybound's "Tech Jacket." Randolph talks about his time in animation, the tips and tricks he learned from fellow animators and how it affected his aesthetic approach to "Tech Jacket." The veteran artist also offers his take on the prospect of unions in the comic book industry, and the ways they might be both similar to and different than those found in animation. Randolph closes by talking about why the name of his long running sketchbook series "Pimpjooze" needs to change and why he needs to draw a '70s-inspired "Heroes for Hire" book for Marvel.
On being a comic book artist who transitioned into working in animation by accident:
First of all, honestly, I kind of just fall into stuff. It'd be nice to say I have some kind of grand design. I kind of just fall into jobs the way they come. My whole thing from the jump was being a comic book artist. That's what I wanted to do. I was all about being a comic superstar. That was my whole plan. And then somewhere along the line reality hit, and rent's got to get paid, and if comics aren't working then something else has got to happen. Luckily my style kind of already has an animated feel to it. I had friends who were like, "You know what? We're working on some animation stuff, maybe you should jump in." Actually it was a friend of mine named LeSean Thomas, he had me do some turn-arounds for "The Boondocks," and I did that. It worked out okay. Did a couple episodes, and next thing you know I got asked to work on some stuff for the "Hellboy" animated series that came out. Then I started doing some stuff for "[Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtles" and other things. People just talk. Once you do a job and don't completely screw it up, they're like, "Why don't you do some more." And that happened over the course of four or five years where I just kept falling in animation jobs. I was still doing some comic stuff here and there but it was mostly just whoever was calling had the best gig at the time is what I was taking.
On the different approached to storytelling in animation and comics:
I'd say they are both demanding jobs. With comics you are drawing everything. You're the director, you're the cameraman, and you're doing lighting. Where animation is a bit more specialized. You might just be a character designer. You're just drawing characters from the front, the side, and the back. It's very specialized. Or you're doing storyboards and that's it, so it doesn't have to be quite as finished. Comics are grueling in that you just have to be on point with everything. Whether it's backgrounds, scenery, architecture. You always have to be able to draw everything at a moments notice. I like them both for different reasons. Comics are still where my heart's at. Animation has unions, and animation has more stability than comics does in the long term. I tend to go back and forth depending on what my financial situation is at the time.
On maintaining a certain focus in a specific industry:
With all things, when you are doing animation, in the back of your mind you're like, "Oh man, I wish I was doing comic books." And then when you're in comic books you're like, "Remember those paychecks every week?" You are always thinking about the grass is greener on the other side. So I was in animation and I was planning on coming back to comics on some point, but there was a certain hesitancy on my part 'cause I was like, "It's a very uncertain time being a freelancer." And what happened was, life kind of made that decision for me, because the whole art staff at the company I was at got laid off. So once that happened I was like, "Lets look at that as a positive. This is what I need to force myself out there and get another comics gig." So when that happened I was like, "Let's get a plan together," and I talked to my friend Emilio Lopez who is a colorist. He is incredible. And I was like, "If you and I get together and push ourselves as a team, as a unit, maybe it will be mutually beneficial for both of us as a kind of package deal. And so we started doing that, and within a couple months I got the job at Aspen doing "Charismagic" and pretty much within the same couple weeks I got a job doing "Starborn" for BOOM! [Studios]. And now stupidly on my part I took both on the same time. I got a little greedy. "Oh, I guess I'm feeling myself now, let's see if we can do both." Which the work got done, but it was not easy. I told myself I would never do that ever again. Life kind of makes decisions for you sometimes, and you just have to roll with it.
On partnering with colorist as a business move to further career:
For me that comes from a lot of trial and error and screwing up a lot. To the point where -- this wasn't my first go around with comics -- my first go around, I was trying to play the game I thought I was supposed to play. So I was going to Marvel and DC and saying, "Whatever you guys need me to do I'll do," and I'd go to work for them. They'd stick me with an inker and a colorist of their choosing, and I always felt the results weren't up to what I thought I was capable of. Because, either, I like being able to collaborate with people, and collaboration means you actually talk with people. I never got to talk with the inker. I never got to talk to the colorist to be on the same page. So I thought that made for a lesser product. So in my second go around I was like, "I want to have more control over how the art is going to look. So that means that one, I'm not going to take jobs that maybe if the job has to be done in two weeks, maybe don't take it. Even if I could get it done it's going to look like garbage. So I was like "I'll take certain jobs that I know I can control." Emilio and I worked together on animation, so I knew he was coming at it from a different point of view from other colorists in comics, which I wanted as well because he just brings a different look. I was like, "You already stand out stylistically from other people. Maybe if we just push it together and see what happens." And it's worked out pretty well.
On joining the "Tech Jacket" team, and bringing his aesthetic to the book:
I got into "Tech Jacket" because -- I've know Robert [Kirkman] for a long time, since probably 2001. Before he was kind of like "Robert Kirkman." He had his Funk-o-tron label of books and he ran a message board off of PencilJack, and I was on that message board posting art here and there, getting critiques, and feedback and such, and we got a friendship. We had always talked about working together, but things never happened in terms of time, and my career went in a certain direction, and his blew up and he became "Robert Kirkman." One day as I was finishing up my last project, he just hit me up out of the blue and was like, "Yo, we're bringing 'Tech Jacket' back. I know you were a fan back in the day. Is it something you want to do? I think it would be a good fit for you." And I was like -- I remember specifically saying, "Are you calling me from Hollywood right now?" He was jut like, "Yeah, I'm calling from L.A., you used to turn me down, you going to turn me down now, now that I'm this?" And I was like, "I'd be pretty stupid if I did," so obviously I was like, "Let's go. I'm down for whatever." It was perfect timing anyways. So that's kind of how that happened.
As far as style of the book goes, that was a deliberate decision on my part because the previous artist, E.J. Su, was a real manga artist. That's what he does. And I knew I wanted to bring my sensibilities to it, but maintain that kind of an anime, or Saturday morning cartoon [vibe], and I figured that's not really a look you see in American comics too often. So I figured at the very least it will stand out. Who knows if everyone will like that, but at this point I'm kind of drawing for myself. I'm not that concerned with about what's hot right now. I'm at a point in my career where I'm like "You either like it or you don't, doesn't matter to me." Because I'm thinking, business minded, or legacy, or whatever, I want to put out stuff that, stands for my brand. Whatever my brand is. I feel like I have a certain aesthetic I bring to things. So I know I'm not a good fit for everything. But in this I thought "This is a perfect job for me. I'm drawing robots and monsters and aliens. This is all stuff that, when I was thirteen, this is exactly the type of book I would want to read." And I was like, "Furthermore, this is for Image Comics, which is stuff that I came up on as a kid. What I wanted to be was like Jim Lee and [Todd] McFarlane. Let me harness some of that sensibility, some of the energy they brought back in the days, and put it into my thing. See where it's going." That was my plan. Hopefully people like it.